Hinduism basics for those travelling to India on a spiritual mission

India is one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations not just for Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs but people of all religions. People from all over the world of all faiths come to experience spirituality. You will find that all of your senses are fulfilled by spiritualism in India. If you are considering visiting India for spiritual purposes then here are some facts about the Hindu religion you might find useful on your spiritual journey.

The ghats of Varanasi. The smoke is from the funeral pyres.

21 Facts on Hinduism:

1. There is no founder or prophet of this religion. It is the oldest religion in the world and dates back to prehistoric times.

2. The symbol of Hinduism is the Aum (Om or Omkara).  It can be found at the beginning of all Hindu texts.

3. The word Hinduism comes from the River Indus (River Sindhu) that flows from Tibet to India.

4. Hindus believe in reincarnation. This means that the body may die but the soul (Aatma) does not die. The soul is reborn into another living being till it reaches perfection.

5. Reincarnation or recycle for rebirth is dictated by karma or deeds. Reincarnation will depend on the type of life a person has lived. The goal of all humans is to live a good life with no bad deeds that will ultimately lead to Moksha or liberation of the soul from rebirth.

6. Hindus believe in one God the Paramatma (The Supreme Being). But Hindus also have a personal God or Goddess such as Shiva, Krishna or Lakshmi to whom they pray regularly which are manifestations of the Supreme Being.

7. The soul is part of the Paramatma or the super-soul, the Supreme Being.

Varanasi ghats
A dip in the River Ganges will wash away your sins

8. There are 4 goals of life. (a) Dharma – doing good deeds and doing required earthly duties; (b) Artha – fulfilling life materialistically within lawful means; (c) Kama – fulfilment and completion of all desires in a proper fashion; (d) Moksha – final liberation of the soul from the recycle of birth.

9. Ganesha is the elephant God, one of the most worshipped Gods in the Hindu pantheon. It was his dad, Lord Shiva who cut off his head by mistake and when he realised his mistake, he got Ganesha a head of an elephant. Ganesha is the one who wrote the Vedas, the Hindu holy books of the Hindus. He is regarded as the remover of obstacles.

10. A Hindu place of worship is called a Temple or Mandir in Hindi. According to Puranas (ancients texts), the most appropriate site for a temple is near water and lotus gardens and where swans, ducks and other birds can be heard. This is why you will find many temples on mountains, forests, natural surroundings, streams, waterfalls and rivers.

11. The Swastika is an ancient symbol of the Hindus. The word Swastika has Sanskrit roots and is thought to have its origins in the city of Harappa of the Indus Valley Civilization. Hitler used it as a symbol of Nazism and anti-Semitism (which has no relation to the supposedly peace loving Hindus of India).

12. Hindus burn or cremate their dead on a funeral pyre. If you visit the holy city of Varanasi (also called Benaras), you will find dead bodies being cremated on the banks of the River Ganges. The ashes are then immersed in the river.

13. There are two main categories of the holy books of the Hindus namely “Shruti” (that which is heard such as the Vedas and Upanishads) and “Smriti” (that which is remembered such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana). The Rigveda is the one of the oldest literatures of the world.

14. Cannabis does have roots in the Hindu religion. It has been mentioned in the Vedas as a scared plant. It has been described as a source of happiness and something that gives joy. During the festival of Holi (festival of colours), it is a tradition to have a drink of bhang (cannabis milk shake).

Yoga in India
European woman doing Yoga on the street in India

15. The most popular holy sites of the Hindu religion include Varanasi, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Haridwar-Rishikesh, Mathura, Vrindavan and Ayodhya.

16. The Kumbh Mela of the Hindus is considered as the largest religious gathering in the world. It is held every third year at one of the four places of Haridwar, Allahabad, Nashik or Ujjain in rotation.

17. The cow is not worshipped but revered in the Hindu religion. Krishna, one of the popular Hindu Gods looked after cows hence Hindus consider them as divine.  Since humans drink the cow’s milk, it is considered as a mother. In the villages of India, the cow dung is collected and used as a fuel for cooking purposes. Hindus believe that cow-urine has medicinal properties.  Since the cow has many uses, Hindus consider the cow as an animal that should not be harmed and therefore not eaten.

18. An ashram is an Indian monastery. There are ashrams dedicated for yoga, religious studies and even ashrams for music. The word Ashram comes from the word “sram” which means, ‘your steps toward liberation or Moksha’. The “Art of Living Ashram” founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a very popular ashram in India. It specialises in stress elimination, self development based mainly on meditation and yoga and breathing techniques.

19. Hindu society is grouped into castes that divided people according to the jobs they took. The caste system became very rigid in the 6th century and became a source of segregation and abuse. Between 1860 and 1920, the British fuelled the system by granting administrative jobs to the upper castes only.

20. A swami is a person who has been inducted in a religious order.  The word is also used to denote a teacher or a guru.

21. Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism started as “protest religions” against Hinduism particularly the caste system and became separate religions. Many philosophical concepts of all Indian religions such as non-violence and reincarnation are essentially the same.

If you want to learn more about the Hindu religion before visiting India then you might consider buying my book on Amazon. It is called, “Hinduism For Kids: Beliefs And Practices”. Although, mainly written for children but it can be read by adults too and those who want to learn about Hinduism.

Click here to buy my book on Hinduism

You don’t really need to be a Hindu or a Buddhist to experience what India has to offer. India is a country where other cultures and religions have also thrived and flourished through the ages and resulted in a unique Indian way of life. Here’s a list of the most popular religions destinations of other Indian faiths.

Hinduism For Kids: Beliefs And Practices
Hinduism For Kids: Beliefs And Practices

As the world becomes more materialistic, the search for spirituality and answers seems to grow in urgency. India as a country, its people, its culture, and their way of life encourages spiritualism to thrive and flourish. I am sure you will find peace in India.

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